Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan recited a verse from the Quran in honor of Istanbul’s Ottoman conquerors in the Hagia Sophia on Saturday, describing the former imperial mosque and Orthodox cathedral as a “holy” place.
Erdogan was speaking at the opening of the Yeditepe Biennial for classical Turkish art but also chose the moment to go counter to modern Turkey’s secular heritage in praise of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.
He dedicated the prayer to the “souls of all who left us this work as inheritance, especially Istanbul’s conqueror”.
A recitation from the Quran was also held before the Turkish president’s speech.
It was then converted into a museum by the secular government of Kemal Mustafa Ataturk in 1935 but supporters of Erdogan’s religious AK Party and other Islamist groups have clamored for the building to be used as a mosque again.
Religious events have been held at the Hagia Sophia previously, drawing criticism from the Greek government.
In 2015, a Quran recitation was held inside, the first such religious event in the UNESCO World Heritage Site for 85 years.